The Senator's Last Trade by John Fox Jr.
A drove of lean cattle were swinging easily over Black Mountain, and behind them came a big man with wild black hair and a bushy beard. Now and then he would gnaw at his mustache with his long, yellow teeth, or would sit down to let his lean horse rest, and would flip meaninglessly at the bushes with a switch. Sometimes his bushy head would droop over on his breast, and he would snap it up sharply and start painfully on. Robber, cattle-thief, outlaw he might have been in another century; for he filled the figure of any robber hero in life or romance, and yet he was only the Senator from Bell, as he was known in the little Kentucky capital; or, as he was known in his mountain home, just the Senator, who had toiled and schemed and grown rich and grown poor; who had suffered long and was kind.
Only that Christmas he had gutted every store in town. ``Give me everything you have, brother,'' he said, across each counter; and next day every man, woman, and child in the mountain town had a present from the Senator's hands. He looked like a brigand that day, as he looked now, but he called every man his brother, and his eye, while black and lustreless as night, was as brooding and just as kind.
When the boom went down, with it and with everybody else went the Senator. Slowly he got dusty, ragged, long of hair. He looked tortured and ever-restless. You never saw him still; always he swept by you, flapping his legs on his lean horse or his arms in his rickety buggy here, there, everywhere-- turning, twisting, fighting his way back to freedom--and not a murmur. Still was every man his brother, and if some forgot his once open hand, he forgot it no more completely than did the Senator. He went very far to pay his debts. He felt honor bound, indeed, to ask his sister to give back the farm that he had given her, which, very properly people said, she declined to do. Nothing could kill hope in the Senator's breast; he would hand back the farm in another year, he said; but the sister was firm, and without a word still, the Senator went other ways and schemed through the nights, and worked and rode and walked and traded through the days, until now, when the light was beginning to glimmer, his end was come.
This was the Senator's last trade, and in sight, down in a Kentucky valley, was home. Strangely enough, the Senator did not care at all, and he had just enough sanity left to wonder why, and to be worried. It was the ``walking typhoid'' that had caught up with him, and he was listless, and he made strange gestures and did foolish things as he stumbled down the mountain. He was going over a little knoll now, and he could see the creek that ran around his house, but he was not touched. He would just as soon have lain down right where he was, or have turned around and gone back, except that it was hot and he wanted to get to the water. He remembered that it was nigh Christmas; he saw the snow about him and the cakes of ice in the creek. He knew that he ought not to be hot, and yet he was--so hot that he refused to reason with himself even a minute, and hurried on. It was odd that it should be so, but just about that time, over in Virginia, a cattle dealer, nearing home, stopped to tell a neighbor how he had tricked some black-whiskered fool up in the mountains. It may have been just when he was laughing aloud over there, that the Senator, over here, tore his woollen shirt from his great hairy chest and rushed into the icy stream, clapping his arms to his burning sides and shouting in his frenzy.
``If he had lived a little longer,'' said a constituent, ``he would have lost the next election. He hadn't the money, you know.''
``If he had lived a little longer,'' said the mountain preacher high up on Yellow Creek, ``I'd have got that trade I had on hand with him through. Not that I wanted him to die, but if he had to--why--''
``If he had lived a little longer,'' said the Senator's lawyer, ``he would have cleaned off the score against him.''
``If he had lived a little longer,'' said the Senator's sister, not meaning to be unkind, ``he would have got all I have.''
That was what life held for the Senator. Death was more kind.